September 08th, 2022
“I’ve never yet met a donor who has the slightest interest in replacing government functions – they want to do so something additional, they want to get things happening that wouldn’t have happened otherwise…’’
Dr Beth Breeze OBE - Director of the Global Challenges Doctoral Centre and the Centre for Philanthropy, University of Kent
They [1-million-pound donors] typically talk about personal experiences and various connections to causes. Like the rest of us, they give to what they know and what they care about…. What they’re all talking about is the joy of giving and how much more fun and interesting it is to spend their time and their money being engaged in good causes, meeting interesting people and learning new things, far more pleasurable they say, than buying more stuff, being on a yacht or the golf course.
So, my book In Defence of Philanthropy is prompted by this mismatch between the lived experience of those donors themselves when they talk about philanthropy and this growing chorus of criticism that sees philanthropy as fundamentally and irretrievably flawed.
In healthy democracies, new ideas need to arise, and existing choices need to be challenged. One of philanthropy’s most powerful roles is to help improve democracy, not undermine it, by providing outside pressure, funding research, advocacy and campaigns. We need democracy – of course we do – to ensure that everyone has a say at the ballot box, but we also need philanthropy to ensure voices are heard in between elections. I’ve never yet met a donor who has the slightest interest in replacing government functions – they want to do so something additional, they want to get things happening that wouldn’t have happened otherwise… So simply replacing the good funding, turning off the tap of public funding and turning on the tap of philanthropy doesn’t mean any extra has happened, so it’s really not appealing to big donors. They also know the figures don’t add up – however rich an individual is, their resources are no match for government budgets.
I think that philanthropy is not perfect but nor is it inherently problematic. It is of course improvable, but it is not illegitimate. It’s got value that urgently needs articulating and defending, and I think if we wish to encourage more people to give – and I understand Philanthropy Australia has the goal of doubling structured giving by 2030 – then we need to balance out the cynicism and the criticism, with acknowledgements and praise for the positive potential and outcomes of philanthropy.
This is an edited extract from a keynote address at the Philanthropy Australia national conference 2022.